Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Ottawa announces rail-safety changes, but critics say measures fall short

    Ottawa is finally moving on the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations to improve railway safety in the wake of last summer's Lac-Mégantic disaster.

    Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced the federal government's several measures, effective immediately.

    They include a three-year phase-out or retrofitting of older DOT-111 tank cars that figured in the derailment and explosions that incinerated the centre of the Quebec town and killed 47 people.

    However, CBC News noted, the government will not implement a key safety board recommendation that Canada's railways do route planning for dangerous-goods trains.

    Raitt also told a news conference the railways have 30 days to remove from service tank cars that are the least crash-resistant and lack continuous reinforcing of the lower part of their shells. It's estimated about 5,000 are in use in North America, CBC News said.

    [ Related: Feds vow 'ambitious' phase-out of unsafe rail tank cars ]

    The estimated 65,000 DOT-111 tank cars must be

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  • Is one in three Canadians really a victim of child abuse and at risk of mental illness?

    A new study that concludes one in three Canadians has been subjected to child abuse is already generating controversy.

    The research, based on an extensive survey and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also found an "association" with 14 different mental-health problems, including suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide.

    No sooner had the report hit the media when National Post columnist Barbara Kay began heaping scorn on both the results and premise of the study Wednesday for stoking "moral panic" in much the same way as groups who claim universities foster "rape culture."

    The study looked at data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey on mental health covering all 10 provinces and involving more than 23,000 adults.

    The study found 32 per cent reported experiencing three types of child abuse (physical, sexual and exposure to intimate-partner violence). Researchers found a correlation between all three types of abuse and all types of mental conditions. The

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  • Gun crime has fallen sharply in last few years, new StatsCan figures show

    First the good news: Gun-related violent crime is falling in Canada, down by more than 25 per cent between 2009 and 2012, according to Statistics Canada data released Wednesday.

    Victims of firearm-related violent crime, per 100,000 population (2012)

    Nunavut - 154.3
    NW Territories - 39.2
    Saskatchewan - 34.3
    Manitoba - 31.6
    Nova Scotia - 28.2
    Alberta - 23.9
    New Brunswick - 23.8
    British Columbia - 22.7
    Yukon - 16.6
    Ontario - 16.6
    Newfoundland - 14.6
    P.E.I - 10.9
    Source: StatsCan

    But if you're living on the Prairies, we've got some bad news. The firearms-related violent crime rate in Saskatchewan and Manitoba is the highest in the country. (Quebec was not included because of problems with data quality.)

    And when it comes to bigger cities, Halifax and Moncton top the rankings, followed by Saskatoon and Hamilton, Ont.

    The stats cover not just actual shootings but any crime where a gun is involved, from homicide and attempted murder to sexual assault, robbery and uttering threats.

    Overall,

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  • Ottawa reduces threat level for humpback whales off B.C. coast

    Any boater would be thrilled to encounter a humpback whale and it's happening more often on the West Coast, suggesting numbers of the giant mammal might be on the rise off the B.C. coast.

    That could be the reason the federal government took them off Canada's list of threatened species last week. But the move has some suspecting other motives.

    Environment Canada announced Saturday that the humpback whale's status under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) had been changed from "threatened" to "species of special concern," the Canadian Press reports.

    The Canada Gazette on Saturday published the Conservative government's order-in-council amending the act's application to the humpback.

    The change was made in the wake of a 2011 report from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an independent scientific advisory body that found humpback numbers in the Northwest Pacific region have been increasing since the 1990s, now estimated at more than 18,000 adult whales, CP said.

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  • Finger-pointing continues in wake of viral baggage-toss video

    While it looks like the Air Canada baggage handlers involved in the now-infamous carry-on baggage-bombing incident will be fired, the finger pointing has not stopped.

    Their union says the airline is at fault for its loose enforcement of carry-on restrictions, forcing handlers to deal quickly with increasing amounts of excess carry-on bags being checked at the gate so as not to delay the flight.

    That apparently means getting creative with how they shift those bags, which were likely carried on in the first place because they contained something valuable of fragile.

    Even passengers come in for criticism for ignoring the limits and for whipping out their smart phones at the slightest provocation.

    [ Related: Baggage handlers to be fired over luggage incident, airline says ]

    It all started with a phone video shot by traveller Dwayne Stewart as he waited for his Air Canada flight to take off from Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

    Shooting out the window from his seat, Stewart

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  • Maple Leaf Gardens pedophile Gordon Stuckless pleads guilty to 100 more counts

    Gordon Stuckless arrives at court in Toronto on Tuesday April 22, 2014.

    Gordon Stuckless, one of the most notorious pedophiles in Canada, has pleaded guilty to 100 more charges of abusing young boys as part of the infamous Maple Leaf Gardens sex ring.

    Stuckless, now 65, was in a Toronto courtroom Tuesday to answer to 108 charges involving 18 victims over a span of 20 years between 1965 and 1985.

    He admitted to most of them, including indecent assault, sexual assault and gross indecency, but pleaded not guilty to several charges, including sexual assault with a weapon and the rare count of buggery, The Canadian Press reported.

    “Those are counts that involve a word called ‘buggery,’ which is an older term, for what would be called anal sex with these boys – much more serious charges," defence lawyer Ari Goldkind said, according to CBC News.

    "Mr. Stuckless maintains while he did some horrible and terrible things and ruined many lives back then, he never did those things to young boys."

    [ Related: Child abuser Gordon Stuckless faces new and rare buggery

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  • Canada’s most exclusive gift store open only to Ottawa's elite

    Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was run by an elite ruling class known as the nomenklatura.

    This tiny percentage of Soviets — politburo members, military officers and key bureaucrats in every facet of the government, military and industry — had enormous privileges in the Communist Party's so-called workers' paradise.

    Senior members of the nomenklatura had their own traffic lanes, their children got spots at the best universities and first crack at good jobs, and their families were allowed the exclusive right to shop at special stores.

    While their comrades were lining up at state outlets on the rumour there was a fresh supply of toilet paper, the nomenklatura was browsing for displays of Western goods such as colour TVs and blue jeans that were unattainable for their fellow citizens.

    It turned out the Revolution of 1917 may have wiped out the Russian aristocracy but communists managed to reinvent it. The nomenklatura system still exists in North Korea and

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  • Dating site for lonely farmers now targeting Canadian market

    You can sort of see the ad: Lonely farmer seeks country girl. Must know her way around a combine harvester and not be put off by the smell of pig manure.

    The advent of the Internet has made finding romance a lot easier and the web now features an increasing array of specialized dating sites.

    When it comes to people who make their living from the land, apparently the big player is FarmersOnly, which claims to have 1.5 million paying members. It's slogan is "City folks just don't get it."

    Founder Jerry Miller, whose headquarters are based in the wonderfully named down of Pepper Pike, Okla., told The Canadian Press he set up the site in 2005 after a divorced female farmer friend had a frustrating time finding suitable men to date on other sites.

    He started by posting flyers in local feed stores and at one point had to redesign the site because most farmers only had dial-up Internet connections. That's changed, he said, and now many farmers browse the site from their cellphones while

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  • While U of T faculty mulls union certification, some profs are opposed

    I had to roll my eyes and stifle a snort when I read the reasons why some professors at the University of Toronto were balking at the idea of their faculty association becoming a certified union.

    I didn't know that the U of T was one of the last in Canada where faculty don't belong to a certified trade union, as the Globe and Mail reports.

    The current faculty association does bargain for its members under what's termed a memorandum of agreement.

    "The MoA dates to the late 1970s and was developed explicitly as an alternative to union certification, though the latter is an option that remains open to faculty and librarians should they choose to exercise it," the association says on its website.

    "The MoA features a limited scope collective bargaining process that deals with minimum salary, benefit and pension provisions together with workload."

    The association does not have the right to strike under the current bargaining structure, the Globe noted.

    [ Related: UNB and striking faculty

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  • What does the Ukraine crisis mean for Canada’s military?

    The government's decision to deploy six RCAF CF-18 fighters to Poland as part of NATO's response to the crisis in Ukraine seems to have caused barely a ripple in Canada.

    There's been surprisingly little discussion, considering the worst case scenario could find them going, in the immortal words of Dr. Strangelove's Major 'King' Kong, "toe to toe with the Rooskies."

    The announcement Thursday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the latest Canadian response to what the government sees as Russian meddling in Ukraine, from its support of armed pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine to the buildup of Russian troops on the border.

    An agreement this week between Russia and Ukraine was supposed to ease tensions, but was being ignored by pro-Russian militias on the ground.

    “Canada continues to strongly condemn Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine and its ongoing aggressive military provocation," Harper said in a news release.

    “Along with our NATO allies, we recognize the need

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